Start the game, check. Select the language, check. It’s time to choose the character. As a permanent teacher who has his/her own class, you are the closest adult to your pupils at the school. They will turn to you if they need help with exercises, if something happens during resets or if they have social issues. You are the one they lean on and whose advice they trust. But what is the role of a substitute teacher? Who am I from the pupils’ perspective?
When I was working as a teacher on call during my studies, I learned how things are done in different schools and I got to meet many students and teachers in a short time. However, I cannot really say I got to know the pupils I met since I only worked as a short-term sub for different teachers. As a short-term substitute teacher, the goal is different from regular teacher’s. Often you are called early in the morning to jump into the role of the absent teacher. Your purpose then is to make sure the pupils are safe and that they do their daily school work (if some instructions are given). Usually, you don’t know anything about the students’ backgrounds or even their names. If I think about the substitute teachers I had as a primary school student, I must say I cannot recall their names. Maybe I remember some funny things they did. But most often, short-term subs, they come and go and life goes on.
At the beginning of this job, I was often compared to the permanent teacher by the children: ”you have the same shirt” or ”we used this app with her too”. That is, of course, a good thing. Finding similarities between me and the permanent teacher makes the pupils feel safe. Also, I felt safe when hearing ”ihan sama ope” (literally translated ’the same teacher’) because then I knew I was doing it right.
Now I have been working at the school for one month. (By the way, I cannot believe how fast it is going!) At this point, I realise I’m not only a walk-in-walk-out substitute teacher whose purpose is to replace the regular teacher. I actually have my own pupils to take care of for a longer time and I can do it my own way. The children are realising the same as well. We are little by little getting used to the mixture of the old and new routines. Furthermore, this week I noticed we have begun to trust each other more. If they wouldn’t trust, they wouldn’t protest. This is at least what I try to believe now when the kids have started to tell me ”I don’t care, teach” (ironically, ”ihan sama, ope” in Finnish).
Finally, what is the difference between a regular teacher and longterm substitute teacher? Once we are settled into our new routines and we have begun to trust, we get more responsibilities and rights concerning each other. During the first month, I’ve gathered a better understanding of the students’ ability and skills which gives me tools to evaluate and support them academically. Concurrently, the children come to tell me about more personal matters and ask for advice. Even though I’m extremely tired after these two weeks of protests and testing, I’m happy to see the sign of ”we take you as our teacher”.